What motivates people to attend school board meetings- and social media discussions- in order boo, jeer, and threaten those with whom they disagree? The last two board meetings have featured a large crowd of such people, at least some of whom were recruited with social media messages that encouraged a “show of force.”
The result is that others no longer feel safe in expressing their own point of view. Here is just a small glimpse into the many messages I’ve received over the last several weeks:
“I feel like discourse has become so toxic within our community at times, that I don’t really feel comfortable writing this publicly on your page. Thank you and the rest of the board for your leadership in this climate and your willingness to grapple with these issues.”
“I was planning to come and speak in support of following data and science, but based on what occurred two meetings ago and now this, I have safety concerns for the board and for others who believe in following the science and protecting our children by wearing masks until parents have the opportunity to choose if the want to vaccinate their children.”
“I was called a fag and was told I’d be slapped around in the parking lot.”
I know people who disagree with the district’s decision yesterday to follow the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC to require universal masking in district buildings. Some of them have spoken at board meetings or posted online too. They point to how uncomfortable masks can be, or data showing the relatively few cases of severe covid symptoms among younger children. Points like these are fair, and deserve to be part of the discussion. I think they are outweighed right now by the issues I’ve outlined in Reconsidering Masks and Misunderstanding Masking, but I appreciate and respect their perspective and understand that they– like me– love their children, want to do what is best for the community, and can sometimes be passionate about these issues as a result.
But their perspective is only cheapened by those who seek to win an argument through insults, or shouting down other points of view, or spreading misinformation and lies about masks, vaccines, and the pandemic.
At the end of the day, public education is a fundamental pillar of democracy. Public schools provide citizens with the knowledge, the skills, the habits of mind, and the norms that make democracy possible. These include the need to listen to different points of view (rather than shout them down), to argue on the basis of real information (rather than conspiracy theories and rumors), and to give reasons for one’s opinion (rather than hurl insults). But the schools can only do so much. How parents model behavior during a disagreement matters more.
The issue of what do in our schools during a global pandemic is incredibly important right now, and people are rightfully emotional about the issue. But it’s also worth remembering that our kids are watching us closely. And how we resolve controversies like this today– through civility and respect for others, or through taunts and the largest “show of force,” will determine how ALL disagreements are resolved in our community in the future.